Big broadband internet merger approved

Big broadband internet merger approved

NBTC board says AIS-3BB deal can go ahead, subject to remedies to protect consumers

Representatives of the National Consumer Council discuss their objections to the AIS-3BB merger at the headquarters of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) on Friday. (Photo: Apichart Jinakul)
Representatives of the National Consumer Council discuss their objections to the AIS-3BB merger at the headquarters of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) on Friday. (Photo: Apichart Jinakul)

The board of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) voted on Friday evening to approve the takeover of the broadband internet service provider Triple T Broadband (TTTBB) by Advanced Info Service (AIS).

After the acquisition is completed, AIS would become the biggest player in the fixed broadband market with 4.69 million users, exceeding the 3.8 million of the current market leader True. State-owned National Telecom is the only other major provider.

Five of the seven NBTC board members took part in Friday evening’s meeting, with four of them — Suphat Suphachalasai, AM Thanapant Raichareon, Pirongrong Ramasoota and Somphop Purivigraipong — approving the deal. Commissioner Torpong Selanon abstained.

The same four members voted to issue remedy measures to protect consumers and Mr Torpong again abstained.

Currently there are four major broadband internet service providers: True Corp, AIS Fibre, National Telecom and TTTBB, operator of the 3BB brand.

The decision by the telecom regulator, coming after hours of wrangling, differs slightly from the approach it took to the merger last year between the mobile operators True and DTAC. In that case, the board concluded it had no authority to accept or reject the deal but could only acknowledge it and issue remedies.

The Foundation for Consumers petitioned the Central Administrative Court in March to void the NBTC’s resolution on the True-DTAC merger. It declined, but the Supreme Administrative Court overruled the decision and ordered the case to go ahead.

In the case of the AIS-TTTBB merger, commissioner AM Thanapant Raichareon said all five members voted that the board had the authority to approve or reject the deal.

Dr Sarana Boonbaichaiyapruck, the NBTC chairman, and Pol Gen Nathathorn Prousoontorn did not participate in the evening session. However, they had said earlier that they believed the board could only acknowledge the AIS-TTTBB deal and issue remedies, similar to the True-DTAC merger.

Friday’s meeting began at 9am and was taken up mainly by arguments about whether the NBTC had the legal authority to accept or reject the deal. Five commissioners said it did, in line with a 2006 regulation on takeovers of businesses or assets in the telecom sector. Dr Sarana and Pol Gen Nathathorn cast dissenting votes.

Shortly afterward, Dr Sarana, Pol Gen Nathathorn and Mr Torpong left the meeting, saying they and NBTC staff had to go to Wat Yannawa for a Royal Kathin ceremony as scheduled.

As a result, there was no vote on the actual merger. The meeting resumed at 3.30pm with five commissioners present, with the deciding vote allowing the merger to go ahead coming at 6.15. (Story continues below)

Members of the NBTC board discuss the AIS-3BB merger at a meeting on Friday. (Photo: Apichart Jinakul)

Delays frustrate AIS

A source at AIS who requested anonymity lamented that the NBTC had taken such a long time to make up its mind, noting that the takeover proposal was submitted to the regulator in November 2022.

The company has had to reschedule the deal’s timeline three times due to inability of the NBTC to reach a resolution, the source told the Bangkok Post.

The source said the company hopes to complete all procedures related to the deal by Nov 15. That would include holding board meetings of AIS and TTTBB, and related paperwork for a loan to buy 100% of TTTBB from Jasmine International Plc and a 19% holding in Jasmine Broadband Infrastructure Fund (JASIF).

AIS has said its acquisition plan will yield a long-term benefit for the home broadband sector, enabling Thai users in urban and non-urban locations to have access to digital services and high-speed internet with fibre-optic technology.

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